X5, Active Tourer joining e-power drive

More BMW battery-powered cars are coming this year … and these impending introductions are based on mainstream models.

ELECTRIC-assisted editions of the X5 and 2-Series Active Tourer are set to come on sale in New Zealand this year, but the distributor is holding off offering the same option in its 3- and 7-Series passenger sedans and remains coy about whether it has interest in the rumoured next addition to its ‘i’ car family.

BMW Group New Zealand managing director Florian Renndorfer has confirmed his brand will bring plug-in hybrid (PHEV) power to its mainstream models for the first time, with the X5 xDrive40e set go on sale here around October.

It will be joined by a second PHEV, the 225xe Active Tourer, before the end of year.

Sales projections, if established, are being kept in-house however Renndorfer says: “I am certainly convinced there is a market in New Zealand for such cars. People here want to drive future technologies.”

But that belief only carries so far. For now, though, we’re not mirroring Australia’s decision to sell the 330e sedan, a mains-rechargeable edition of the 3-Series, and there’s also no interest in a like-configured 740e version of the new 7-Series limo which has just come on sale here.

And though he feigns good-humoured surprise when asked about the potential for seeing the i5, a larger, next step-up model on i3 underpinnings that Munich is said to be working on – asking, with a laugh “it’s a movie?” – he adds that, in talking about the ‘i’ brand in general “I think more cars could fit under that … but there is nothing that we can talk about.”

For this year, at least, however Renndorfer is keen that his Auckland-based operation expands its electric drive with plug-in electric variants of mainstream models as support for the the i3 hatch and i8 coupe.

The 330e would seem to be a natural foil for the petrol-electric Mercedes C-Class sedan coming here later in the year, but BMW NZ has said all internal studies suggest their model does not stack up for cost effectiveness within the broader framily.

Also, even though Government has indicated interest in going to PHEV models for its ministerial fleet as the next step from the diesel-powered 7-Series limos it has run for three generations now, Renndorfer is not keen to even supply a demonstrator of the 740e – set for unveiling at next month’s Geneva motor show – to test that interest.

However, that doesn’t mean those models are wholly off the agenda, he told Motoring Network from yesterday’s media preview of the orthodox 7-Series derivatives.

“We never say never ... but we are going to start without the Three. So far there is no decision to launch this car.”

He sees the xDrive40e X5 as being a key vehicle within the booming SUV sector and can also foresee a good future for an electric-assisted versions of the Active Tourer, a quirky large hatchback with people-carrier overtones that is especially presented as a budget entry to BMW ownership for brand newbies.

The new models look identical to their donors; the change in wholly under the skin. The SUV combines a 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine with an 83kW/250Nm electric motor to deliver combined outputs of 230kW and 450Nm.

This translates to a claimed 0-100kmh acceleration in 6.8 seconds for the 2.2-tonne X5 PHEV along with a cited average fuel consumption of 3.3 litres per 100km. It emits CO2 at a rate of 77g/km, making it ‘greener’ than the latest Toyota Prius.

It can run as a zero-emissions electric vehicle for around 30km before the 9kWh Lithium-ion battery runs low and takes just four hours to charge via a regular domestic wall socket.

The drawback is that the electric motor and battery add about 120kg to the vehicle’s weight and compromises cabin space. Cargo capacity is reduced to 500 litres and there’s no third-row seven-seat option.

The 225xe, meantime, employs a detuned version of the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine found in the i8, paired with an electric motor.

Making 100kW/220Nm, the petrol engine is located under the bonnet, while an electric motor with 65kW/165Nm and lithium-ion battery is packaged at the rear and drives the rear axle for a combined 164kW and 386Nm.

The claimed optimum economy is 1.6 litres per 100km and, because it can drive for almost 50km on electric alone, while emitting 46g/km, BMW says some owners might find they can achieve all their daily driving without using any fuel whatsoever.

The X5 xDrive40e will provide the primary sales push; the purely fossil-fueled editions have been big sellers for years and the type again topped the brand’s sale charts in 2015.

Mr Renndorfer says it is too early to say how this edition will specify or what it will cost. Neither would he be drawn into offering comment about whether the electric assist edition would have a premium over its diesel equivalent, as seems to occur overseas.

“We have not communicated the prices yet.”

At present the top diesel, the xDrive40d – also the best selling single X5 variant here – is a $149,900 ask.

While the electric car movement is still in a relative infancy – so far just over 1000 new pure battery models and range-extenders have been registered in New Zealand – Renndorfer is optimistic it will grow.

He points out that New Zealand’s i3 carpark of around 50 New Zealand-new cars and some used imports is already the highest in the Asia-Pacific region on a per-capita equation.

“To be honest, I’m very happy with our (sales) penetration. We have the highest portion in Asia Pacific, more than South Korea, Japan and Australia. We do not have the highest portion in the world but we have the highest in the region.”

Japanese used import i3s are set up for direct current recharging – required for fast-charging - whereas New Zealand market models are sold with the alternating current system, which allows for home trickle-charging from regular power points.

Renndorfer declined to speak to speculation that BMW NZ is soon to switch to DC cars as well, so as to take advantage of the emergent though still Auckland-centric fast-charger network now being implemented by private industry. The NZ-spec models, even when prioritized for DC, would still cope with AC trickle charging, Motoring Network has been assured.